By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Just like any other fanatic of the Madden football video game, Danieal Manning used to create himself and play out a simulated career. As for the team he chose: the Chicago Bears.
“I was on the Chicago Bears just because of the defense,” Manning said.
And the Bears picked the former Wildcat 42nd in last year’s NFL draft because Manning fit in to the high powered, hard-hitting and ultra-athletic defense they have become known for.
“That’s where it began,” ACU cornerback and Manning’s former roommate Corey Jordan said. “We used to create our players and he just told me that he was going to make it; that he was going to play in the NFL.”
Manning did make it to the NFL, and like his self-creation, he is playing for the Chicago Bears and doesn’t have to create himself anymore.
“We laugh about that all the time,” said the rookie safety for the NFC Champion Bears. “Now I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
After a rookie season that surprised everyone who didn’t already know Manning’s potential, he now finds himself on the biggest stage for a professional athlete: Super Bowl XLI.
Although Manning remains humble, he said he is hopeful the Bears will beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and he can end his rookie season with a ring on his finger.
“That would be the way to end the rookie year,” Manning said. “You couldn’t ask for anything else but that.”
Super Bowl Mania
Manning has spent the past week in Miami with little time to answer his phone.
“He told me that he probably wasn’t going to bring his phone or just have it off,” Jordan said.
Not even his agent Russell Hicks has been able to get in touch with him on a daily basis as Manning has had to split his time between practice, the media and appearances for the Bears.
And like most athletes being interviewed during the Super Bowl media blitz, the rookie was no stranger to the weird and awkward questions.
“They even asked about my private parts and if me and Peyton [Manning] were related.” Manning said.
But it wasn’t the craziness in Florida that first made him realize the importance of playing in the Super Bowl; it was the personal revelation after beating the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game.
“After we beat the Saints, that right there was a ‘wow’ for me,” Manning said. “That game had its highs and lows of course, but we persevered.”
Manning recorded one tackle and had a shot at an interception against the Saints but intentionally dropped it to give the Bears good field position.
If he snags an interception Sunday against the Colts’ Peyton Manning, it won’t be the first time he’s picked off a future hall of famer. Manning intercepted Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre in his first NFL game on Sept. 7, 2006.
“That would be great if I pick off one from him,” Manning said. “It would be even better if I pick it off from him while we’re winning the game.”
And that has been the main goal of Manning throughout the season: helping his team succeed rather than pursuing self-success.
“I don’t get too caught up in selfishness,” Manning said. “I want to win the game.”
Manning said he isn’t affected by the hype of the Super Bowl or the critics that say Indianapolis’ offense will try to expose the rookie. He’s just ready to play.
“That’s the beauty of this game,” Manning said. “Anyone can say whatever they want, but we won’t know until Sunday gets here.”
The last time a former Wildcat started in the Super Bowl Manning hadn’t been born yet.
The player: Wilbert Montgomery. The year: 1981.
Montgomery started at running back for the Philadelphia Eagles when the Eagles lost 27-10 to Oakland.
If Manning wins he will be the second former Wildcat to be on a Super Bowl winning team-the first was Wilbert’s brother Cle Montgomery in 1984-and the first former Wildcat starter to win a Super Bowl.
But despite the chance to slate another place for himself in the ACU sports history books, Manning has already been secured in the hearts and minds of most of the ACU community.
“I think everybody’s pulling for him,” said Dr. Gary McCaleb, vice president of the university. “I think there is a lot of excitement because there is a personal angle. It’s really something to think a year ago he was playing for ACU.”
Manning is aware of the support he has at ACU and is thankful for it and the support from his family and his hometown of Corsicana.
“I do have a great support system and a great family,” Manning said. “Everybody is supporting me well too, and that’s a big feeling.”
Manning’s success and recognition has also made it easier on the Wildcat football team.
“It’s not hard to recruit for ACU anymore,” Jordan said. “Everyone that comes to Abilene asks about Danieal.”
But for Jordan the biggest impact Manning made was the one in his life.
“He’s a best friend; if I ever need anything I can call him,” Jordan said. “He’s always been kind of a big brother mentor to me ever since I first got here. When we were roommates we used to sit back and watch film, he schooled me on how to approach the game.”
Manning continues to inspire Division II athletes who have hopes of their own to make it to the NFL.
“He always said those guys [in the NFL] are not different than us,” Jordan said. “It’s not really a big difference, just the knowledge of the game.Ó
A little more than one year ago, Manning decided to enter the NFL draft. Had he stayed for his senior year at ACU he may have never started in the Super Bowl. But regardless of the hypotheticals, Manning’s voice mail greeting says it best: “Hey this is Danieal. I made it; I’m at the Super Bowl.”